"Iran's Strategic Penetration of Latin America"
An interview with Joseph Humire – The tri-border region and its U.S. threat
Joseph Humire is the Center for a Secure Free Society's Executive Director and a global security expert specializing in transnational threats in the Western Hemisphere. He also provides regular briefings on international terrorism, transnational organized crime, Islamism, and Iran's influence in Latin America to various entities within the U.S. Department of Defense and intelligence community. Mr. Humire is also a Middle East Forum Fellow.
The quote above is the title of a publication edited by Humire and Ilan Berman featuring Latin American experts whose focus is on Iranian influence in various Latin American countries and its asymmetric challenges to U.S. national security. Humire and Berman shed light on an undervalued threat well-known to the intelligence community for nearly a decade but little understood by the public at large. One reviewer summarized their effort as a warning to Washington not to ignore the strategic alliance of Islamic radicalism and Latin American socialism that has formed there. This alliance poses a military threat to the U.S. in its own backyard. To counter Iran's toxic influence, Humire and Berman recommend that Washington support regional governments in all arenas and prioritize Latin America in our global counter-terrorism efforts.
Counterterrorism steps this year include the creation of a task force by the U.S. Justice Department on transnational crime. Among the targeted criminal organizations is the terror group Hezbollah. As well, Latin American governments have taken a broad approach to curb Hezbollah's crime and terror activities. In the past, Hezbollah committed terrorist attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets in Argentina, killing a total of 114 people-- the first against the Israeli embassy in 1982, and the second on the AMIA Jewish center in 1994 which was the deadliest terror attack in the Western hemisphere prior to 9/11. More recently, Argentina acted against Hezbollah by freezing the financial assets of the Barakat clan, a South American Lebanese network in the tri-border area (TBA) between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. The clan has long been associated with money laundering to finance Hezbollah terrorism, operating in the relatively lawless TBA free trade zone. The cross-border area witnesses much commercial traffic and migration from the large Lebanese community.
In seeking to establish a credible threat to the U.S. in the Americas and eject it from the Middle East, Iran has strategically launched an asymmetric war against the U.S. in Latin America. Iran compensates for its geographic disadvantage by cultivating the large Lebanese Arab population in Latin America. Tehran has tapped into the financial network of the 7-8 million-strong Lebanese diaspora community and co-opted the community by establishing mosques, cultural centers, embassies, and front companies which encroach on the U.S. via money laundering networks.
Hezbollah in Latin America had been deemed a drug trafficking operation and subordinated to America's primary counterterror mission in the Middle East. However, there is a growing realization that illicit drug operations in South America and terror financing of Syrian fighters are connected. By designating Hezbollah as both a terror group and a transnational criminal organization, Latin Americans, who have a greater understanding of criminal organizations but are still grappling with the phenomenon of transnational terrorism, are focusing on strengthening laws to deal with foreign terror organizations. Previously, anti-terrorism laws only dealt with domestic terror organizations like the Columbian FARC or Peru's Shining Path. With a greater understanding of the connections between domestic and international terror operatives and groups, Latin American courts are now starting to crack down on Hezbollah.
Latin America is the next frontier of counterterrorism. Iran exploits its Hezbollah network in the Americas to maximize its asymmetric strategy targeting the U.S. The Trump administration can make a difference in the fight against Tehran in the Middle East by making Latin America a greater priority in U.S. foreign policy.
Saudi Arabia's Mixed Message to the West
An interview with Tarek Fatah – The Khashoggi Affair
Tarek Fatah is a Canadian journalist and writer who founded the Muslim Canadian Congress - a group committed to fighting Islamism and promoting the separation between religion and state. He is also a fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Fatah, who lived in Saudi Arabia for a decade, asserts that Riyadh is autocratic to the point that any subject deemed disloyal to the regime will likely be dealt with in a medieval way, i.e., eliminated. Fatah's sources within the kingdom say that from the Saudis' Sharia perspective, Jamal Khashoggi's murder would have been viewed as authorized, legitimate and moral because any critic of the Saudi regime is guilty of blasphemy and regarded as an apostate. Such a person would be condemned to face 12th-century justice as meted out in the 21st century.
Due to the prestige of the Khashoggi family and the prominent role that Jamal's grandfather held in the kingdom, Jamal's fate became news. However, Saudi Arabia's practices would likely not have drawn significant attention if not for the Saudis' outsized role on the global stage following the oil boom. Khashoggi was media advisor to Prince Turki al Faisal when al Faisal was intelligence minister. Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia and lived in self-imposed exile in Washington, D.C. following the rise of Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to power.
Three responses have been voiced in Washington to the murder of Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and writer for the Washington Post. First, MBS must step down, and the current administration of the Saudi national security network must be changed. Second, a dissident's murder in a foreign land should require the West to impose sanctions on the Saudis so severe as to throw them back to the 12th century. The third response is that, because of the Saudis' central role in the anti-Iranian coalition, they should merely be encouraged to uphold human rights and release dissidents like Raif Badawi. Badawi is a prisoner of conscience serving a seven-year sentence in Riyadh for the alleged crime of insulting Islam.
Fatah is disappointed that, when they consider Iran and Saudi Arabia, neither the U.S. nor Israel identifies the more egregious violator of human rights. It is instructive to recognize the distinction between the Iranian and Saudi population. Whereas a large majority of Iranians, half of whom are Persian and the other half ethnic minorities, would celebrate the fall of their regime, that is not the case in Saudi Arabia. Nearly 100 percent of the Saudis have imbibed anti-Western, doctrinaire Islam. The ancient Saudi kingdom, Hijaz, was invaded and occupied in 1925.
Since 1935, the Saudis have incorporated the holy places of Islam into Saudi Arabia, conducting massacres in Mecca and Medina. More a tribal appropriation of Islam, the Saudis created a type of anti-Western, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish Islamofascism that is reflected in the first page of the Quran and deeply embedded in the Saudi soul. The Saudi ideology has spread to Turkey, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, and the Maldives. The West fails to understand the phenomenon of Islamism and the fascist nature of the Saudi regime. Most imams in the West are Saudi-trained clerics, and the attacks funded by our dollars spread this hate.
The Khashoggi affair, which is the Saudis' worst crisis since 9/11, presents an opportunity for the West to demand reforms by using a "carrot and stick" approach. Tell MBS to release prisoners of conscience and allow for democratic reforms. Even though the Saudis are important to the anti-Iranian alliance, their 12th-century doctrinal beliefs need to be reformed.
Strategically, the repercussions of the Saudis' falling into the Chinese or Russian orbit are profound. The Russians could easily replace the Iranians with the Saudis, and the Iranians are aligning with the Chinese. If the leadership of the U.S. were less "intellectually corrupted" by the retired diplomats and ambassadors among its ranks who lobby for the Saudi regime, the problem would not be compounded. The only options are to eliminate Saudi lobbying in Washington, D.C. and threaten to halt shipments of more surface-to-air missiles to Riyadh.
People who suffer under the Saudis leave the kingdom for the U.S. or Great Britain. Many of the Saudi women are more enlightened than their husbands because they have come to the U.S. and are educated in the social arts, anthropology, sociology, or philosophy.
Summary accounts by Marilyn Stern, Communications Coordinator for the Middle East Forum